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Forum topic by harriw posted 01-21-2013 11:31 PM 7481 views 2 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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129 posts in 2445 days

01-21-2013 11:31 PM

Hi folks,

I’ve been working on re-finishing our stairs for a while now, and am finally getting ready to start the new newel posts.

The original newel posts are extremely sturdy, and I don’t want to cut them off just to install something else that won’t be nearly as strong. So instead I’m planning on leaving the originals in place (they’re nothing fancy – just your typical contractor-grade posts from 1968 – 3” square at the top and bottom, and turned in the middle), and building “covers” to slide over them (oak, to match the stair treads).

What’s the generally accepted construction method for newel posts? I’m planning to make my slide-on covers out of 1/2” material (if I go much wider than that, the trim at the bottom will wind up sticking out farther than the stair treads), so they’ll be about 4” square. At that width, can I make them from solid oak and glue and/or screw directly to the original post without worrying about wood movement? Or is movement enough of an issue (even at that thickness) that I should be making frames and panels, then mitering them all together? FWIW, I’ll also be trimming the finished posts out with baseboard and/or shoe molding at the bottom, and some sort of decorative cap at the top to match the rest of the stairs and entry way.

My fall-back option is to just use 1/2” plywood, and cover the joints at the corners with corner-bead caps, or something along those lines. But I’d prefer to do this “right” and use solid lumber (or frame/panel) and miters, and make them really pop since they’re the first things you see when you walk in the front door.

Thanks a lot!

-- Bill - Western NY

6 replies so far

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3208 days

#1 posted 01-21-2013 11:59 PM

I’d use oak veneered plywood with mitered corners. (Cause I have some.)
It would look like solid oak if the miters are done right.

Only draw back I can think of is the ultra thin veneer they put on plywood these days.
There is no room for error and you have almost nothing there to sand.

Over just a 4” width, I wouldn’t think there would be enough movement to cause a problem if you want to use solid wood either. Be sure it’s acclimated to the room and a lock miter corner would be nice.

View MNgary's profile


303 posts in 2654 days

#2 posted 01-22-2013 12:34 AM

Unless the existing newels are not proportional to the stair design, I’d consider wrapping with quarter-inch material. That may keep the overall look/balance and it would lessen wood movement with changes in humidity.

-- I dream of a world where a duck can cross the road and no one asks why.

View handi's profile


159 posts in 4677 days

#3 posted 01-22-2013 03:54 AM

Depends on your style.

I used to build newels for a high end stair company. I specialized in paneled newels. I’d use a stile and rail door set to make the four sides as if they were tall thin doors.

I’d then use a lock miter bit to miter the four sides to join into a box.

If flat posts are what you want, just prep your stock and lock miter the four sides. In either case, the lock miter makes very strong posts.

Figure your math so that the INSIDE of the finished post is sized to just slip over the existing posts. Make very sure that all the posts are the same or you could get in a bind.

Feel free to get in touch if you need more advice!


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View harriw's profile


129 posts in 2445 days

#4 posted 01-22-2013 04:29 AM

Thanks for the input guys. As much as I enjoy making frame and panels (not to say I’m terribly good at it…), I’m pretty sure the wife wants a “simpler” look. So I’m happy to hear solid lumber will likely be OK.

1/4” ply was actually my first choice, largely due to the relative size issue MNGary was getting at. But when holding up and evaluating some scrap material I noticed it was flexing significantly in the middle, since it was only supported at the tom and bottom. This might not be such an issue once the box is built though, since each piece will also be kept rigid by its 2 adjacent sides. I really don’t think I’d be able to pull off mitering plywood and have ti turn out looking OK. That’s not to say I doubt that it can be done – I just don’t trust myself to be able to pull it off :) Plywood is cheap though – maybe I’ll try it out with some scrap and see how it turns out.

I’ve never done lock miters, but this might be a good excuse to buy a new toy… :) Bet they’re easier to hold together during glue-up too?

Thanks a lot guys!

-- Bill - Western NY

View harriw's profile


129 posts in 2445 days

#5 posted 01-22-2013 04:32 AM

BTW… my biggest fear is that I’ll get this thing all glued up, it will turn out absolutely beautiful, will be sized perfectly to slide right over the post…

And when I go to install it, the post will hang-up on the glue squeeze-out from the miter joints. Anyone have any tricks for removing squeeze-out from the inside of long, skinny assemblies?

Thanks again!

-- Bill - Western NY

View harriw's profile


129 posts in 2445 days

#6 posted 12-24-2013 03:19 AM

Hey folks,

Sorry to dredge up an old topic, but I noticed this thread in my profile and realized I never posted the end result. I wound up doing exactly what was discussed here, and made a sleeve out of solid oak milled down to 1/2” thickness. Joinery was just simple mitered corners, clamped up with a dozen rubber-bands. I intentionally built it a bit too large (maybe a little over 1/32” or so), and shimmed to fit. I got a nice snug fit that way over the existing newel. It’s been installed for almost a year now, and shows no signs of splitting or opening up at the seams. The cap and trim turned out rather nicely too, and most importantly, the wife loves it :) Here’s how it turned out (the flash makes the finish look a bit strange, but you get the idea:

This stairs renovation is taking me forever, but it’s in the home stretch now. Stair treads are sanded down and re-finished, risers and stringers have all been stripped, filled, and painted, and most of the trim work is back up. As you can see, I have the new banister in place along with the new newel post, and the spindles are painted and installed. All I have left really is to do the same thing to the banister on the other side – probably this spring sometime (the banister on the other side is also part of the adjoining livingroom, and I’ve been waiting to do the other rail until we start in on renovating the livingroom). While I suppose it’s not really a “wood working” project, I’ll make sure I post some pictures of the new stairs in all their glory once I finally have the other side finished.

Thanks again for all your help on this!

-- Bill - Western NY

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